The Presidential Election Petition Judgment and Watermark Controversy

The Judgement of the presidential election petition court delivered on September 6 has come under heavy criticism just 24 hours after the judgement.

Things fell apart when the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team, TPLT, and All Progressives Congress, APC, obtained a Certified True Copy, CTC, Of the judgement with the header “Tinubu Presidential Legal Team” on every page of the document. This was copiously shared to the media and APC faithful.

It is presently the biggest trending story in the social media. The fatal suspicion is that the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team wrote the judgement that was read by the judges of the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC.

After getting the CTC from the Court, the Labour Party also applied for a copy which was issued without the header. The Party called out APC and the PEPC to explain convincingly how the TPLT header appeared on their CTC of the judgement issued by the court Registrar.

Responding to the uproar, Babatunde Ogala, SAN, TPLT coordinator, in a statement on Saturday explained that there was no pre-determined manipulation as being alleged. He described the criticisms as “untrue, unkind, unfair, and unfortunate.”

“Following some mischievous insinuations being made in certain quarters regarding the innocuous watermark of copies of the consolidated judgment of the Court of Appeal with the inscription – ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team ‘TPLT’, it is has become necessary to offer this clarification.

“After the delivery of judgment in the 3 (Three) election petitions by the Court of Appeal on September 6, 2023, the Court directed its registry to make physical copies of same available on September 7, 2023.

“Accordingly, the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team applied for a Certified True Copy of the said judgment and paid the prescribed fee.

“Lawyers for PDP were present at the registry at the same time to collect the same judgment.

“In fact, the representative of the PDP collected the first copy that was made available by the registry.

“On collecting our own copy, we immediately scanned and watermarked with the inscription – ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team ‘TPLT’ – before circulating the scanned soft copies to the lawyers in our team.

“The Certified True Copy issued to us and other parties in the petitions by the registry does not contain the said inscription and any insinuation to the contrary is untrue.

“Counsel for the petitioners will also appreciate the fact that the insinuations being circulated in some quarters are untrue, unkind, unfair, and unfortunate, as they have the same certified copies of the judgment as we have.”

However, Chidi Odinkalu, SAN, former chairman of Human Rights Commission, reacted in his Twitter handle that what appeared on the CTC is not a “watermark” as claimed by Ogala and his team:

“It’s either people don’t know the difference between a ‘watermark’ Vs a ‘header’ or they’re invested in confusing the two, betting that most don’t know the difference. ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team’ on that judgment is not a watermark. It is a header. That distinction matters a lot.”

Amidst the media frenzy on what is seen by some critics as a Freudian slip, the Labour Party said Sunday that the PEPC and APC must come clean on the header reflected on the ctc of the judgment issued to APC. That it should not be “another glitch.”

The Party said in a statement on Sunday signed by Obiora Ifo, national publicity secretary, that “Consequent upon the revelation that Certified True Copies (CTC) of the recent judgment by the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) had an imprint, “Tinubu Presidential Legal Team” (TPLT) as its header, Nigerians are curious about such happenstance that has inevitably generated storm and controversy.

“The Labour Party was very disturbed by the delay in releasing the judgment expeditiously, only to be confronted with this befuddlement. The public is equally at pains trying to comprehend what is happening.”

According to the party, “The onus of explaining and dousing the unfolding controversy rests on the PEPC and the TPLT, the imprint owners. Clearly, the header is not a watermark. We note that only some of the petitioners received the same version.

“In a highly contentious case with dire national interest and implications, confirming that the PEPC did not confer any advantage, rights, or privileges to any party is imperative. This development must be cleared up quickly to avoid conjectures and the belief that something untoward happened. This cannot be the case of another glitch.”

Like Odinkalu, Labour Party insists that the imprint is not a watermark. “The senior counsel claimed that the header is a watermark! It is not and can never be. Typically, a watermark is a faint imprint or design made on some papers during production and which can be seen when held up to the light. It helps in checking the genuineness of the paper.

“We of the Labour Party place it on record that the counsel who collected the judgment on behalf of our party and our candidate did so long after a representative of Tinubu Legal Team. We call on the PEPC and APC to come clean on the CTC imprint and disclose whose imprimatur is inscribed on the entire judgment. Nigerians deserve the right to know and are demanding urgent answers.”

The scandal may take a while to blow over because of the high stakes at the Presidential Election Petition judgement, which ended on a note of anticlimax for most people as the Court resolved nearly all the issues in favour of President Bola Tinubu. Nearly all the critical witnesses were knocked out on the technicality of not being frontloaded.

The only issue resolved in favour of Peter Obi was his candidacy. The Court held that he was properly nominated as the presidential candidate of Labour Party.

Obi and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP have given notice of appeal, urging their supporters to await the decision of the Supreme Court.

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